Campus News

UGA helps restore historic Athens town spring

University of Georgia helps restore historic Athens town spring

Athens, Ga. – As part of the Athens Town Stream Restoration Project, the University of Georgia is helping to reveal a historic stream located at the intersection of Fulton and Spring streets.

Scheduled to be completed by the start of fall semester, the project aims to restore the spring-thought to be the namesake of Spring Street-to be more reminiscent of what it used to be: a rock outcropping providing water to UGA students and Athens townspeople. The project also will help in the broader goal of making campus more green.

Physical Plant employees have mucked out dirt and decades worth of debris out of what was previously a grassy shoulder behind the business services building to reveal old cobblestone streets, railroad ties and a rock outcropping thought to be the very one John Milledge mentioned in his letter to the search committee responsible for finding a location for the University of Georgia.

With its “copious spring of excellent water,” the stream is heralded as the reason UGA stands where it does today. It served as Athens’ primary water source for decades, and its water was later pumped into a cistern in the mid-1800s. Eventually covered up by a lumberyard, the stream still is only partially “daylighted,” or exposed to the open air, while much of the stream, which flows into the North Oconee River, is piped underground.

The spring may become further exposed to celebrate the university’s history. Danny Sniff, associate vice president for facilities planning, said he’d like to see the stream head, thought to reside under the Central Duplicating Services building, exposed one day. While there is no time frame on that project, the university’s master plan eventually calls for the elimination of the building and the small parking lots in the area-replacing them with two smaller buildings and extending green space east of North Campus into the new northeast precinct. Sniff said he’d also like a historical marker for the area.

The restoration has been a collaborative effort between facilities planning and the grounds department at UGA and the Athens-Clarke County Public Works Department and its stormwater team.

Dexter Adams, director of UGA’s grounds department, said the restoration has been a good project for the landscaping crew to work on while other water-dependent landscaping projects have been put on hold due to the drought.

Because the stream provides its own water source, Jennifer Perissi, a landscape designer, has stocked the area with water-loving native plants including spikerush, Juncus, Carex and Hydrocotle, all of which grow in the gaps between old railroad tracks.

An old brick wall has been restored with wood beams and even some authentic old railroad hardware. Adams said he wants the entire project to look as authentic as possible, and thus has left the old building footings that were uncovered.

“I wanted to leave the artifacts that were here-the tracks, the cobblestones-and really do as little disturbance as possible to the stream,” said Adams.

That mindset falls in line with UGA’s master plan, according to Sniff.

“One of the things we’re trying to do with our planning is to keep as many of the indigenous materials as possible,” he said.

In the future, the area might even include picnic tables and an old rail cart. Though those plans aren’t yet certain, the historically significant stream will play a major role in the planning and development of the area, according to Sniff.